This article was originally published in September, 2019. It was republished in May, 2020 as part of our Retro May look back at our work over the years.

Hockey season is almost here, and that means the traditional Bob McKenzie interview with the Leafs GM. Kyle Dubas in on his second go at sitting in the hot seat and ducking questions with a smile.  This season’s word is patience, and that’s a thing Leafs fans are not necessarily good at.

You will have to go tune in for the wrestling talk that starts off the show, where Dubas recounts his adventures in bucket-list meetings and fulfilling his inner child. After that’s over they jump right into the Marner talk.

Marner, Marner, Marner

  • Dubas sees Marner as a long-term key player on the Leafs
  • He wants to have this done before training camp (they fly to St. John’s on Thursday, September 12)
  • He thinks this can happen now is because the approach of training camp makes it seem real, and that gets the deal done as the negotiating gets more serious
  • They are open to discuss “most of the available terms”
  • Dubas very firmly counters the concept that Marner might think he’s due the same deal as Matthews with exactly the same arguments we’ve all made: centre vs winger, goals vs assists
  • When asked if the Leafs must have Marner signed by October 1 at the latest, Dubas gave a meandering answer that never really lands on yes or no
  • Dubas talks down the possibility of any trade involving Marner/

Other things that were mildly interesting in the contract segment included confirmation that William Nylander absolutely wanted a long-term deal, and wasn’t willing to take a shorter deal.

The Leafs were already talking to Vegas about trading Sparks before the whole Clarkson deal got factored in.

McKenzie asks if it’s really possible to spend ~$30 million on three forwards, and Dubas says it’s up to him and his staff to make that work with smart moves to support those players.

Captain on the Bridge

When asked about the Leafs naming a captain this season, Dubas slides out from under saying they will do that for sure, but I think it’s very clear they will, and it will be soon. He describes what qualities he thinks the player who is going to be the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the centre of the media storm needs to have. He uses the phrase “present and ready every day” to be the face of the team and meet the media. He also mentions they need to be “calm and stoic”.

While Dubas says they have several players who would qualify for that, I feel like he just described Morgan Rielly. But I would say that, wouldn’t I? I want those Captain Morgan headlines.

Process Requires Patience

I’m much more interested in the non-contract talk in this interview. What starts off as a question about that press conference last spring where Dubas didn’t immediately say he supported Mike Babcock. Dubas just says next time he won’t answer at all, because he wasn’t intending people to read into that what they did. He goes on to say that he doesn’t like to make decisions immediately after an event. He’s not a heat of the moment knee-jerk guy. The process, the thing he couldn’t stop talking about last year, requires patience. He mentions patience a lot in the second half of this interview.

Specifically about the back-to-back losses to Boston in the first round of the playoffs, he says he thinks the two series were very different, and that the Leafs were a better team last year than the year before.

Dubas also says he got told a lot this summer to just do what the Raptors did: Make a bunch of trades, and win, it’s just that easy. As he says, that narrative leaves out the four years of process that came before that for the Raptors that required... wait for it, be patient, now... patience.

This is the part of a rebuild that will test everyone’s patience. The firmly held beliefs that “at some point, you have to get results” or “you have to get out of the first round this year or Babcock is gone” or “eventually you have to win something” are all well and good, but for a man as committed to his process as Dubas is, a man who wants everyone to be patient, I’m not so sure he’ll make the showy moves people want to see if that doesn’t happen to order.

I have a lot of sympathy for both points of view. What a lot of fans are demanding is that the team had better damn well be lucky or heads will roll, and I think that’s dumb, and Dubas is right about patience and sober, careful evaluation. On the other hand, it’s hard to measure incremental improvement in hockey, and we’d all like to see something concrete that we can say, yes, this team is a contender. It’s easy to be patient for the bounces to go your way when you’re sure the team is as good as it can be.

We’ll all need patience with the narratives that will swirl around this team.

Bits of News

Dubas is sticking to the story as told so far that both Zach Hyman and Travis Dermott will be out for the month of October. I still remain skeptical, particularly that Dermott will be out that long. Patience is key here, Dubas tells us.

Without actually saying it, Dubas makes clear that while there’s some room for various new depth defenders to earn an NHL roster spot, both Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren will start in the AHL this season. The door is left open for these players to force their way onto the team later on, but don’t go hoping for one of them to be the guy filling in for Dermott. Oh, and you should all be more patient about Liljegren’s development.

Dubas is not very hopeful-sounding about signing Jake Gardiner, but he comes right out and says it depends on Marner’s deal and they will never close that door. I am patiently waiting on this.

Dubas delightfully slides out from under stating a target number of games for Frederik Andersen to play. They’re leaving it to the “performance department” and the coaches. I say delightful because I hate this numbers game. It’s dumb; it’s backed up by anecdotes not data; and the real answer will vary for every goalie. Interestingly Dubas says he doesn’t believe there is certainty in the Leafs minds or in general about how best to maximize goalie performance.

Dreaming of Cups

Is Dubas really just Captain Process, patiently waiting for the day when the process grinds out a cup? His answer is really interesting. Nerdy and yet full of the dream of winning. Go listen to him. And then live your process every day by being patient.